High Windows

A week ago Wednesday (September 24th) I stood outside the chapel at Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya.  The hospital conducts daily chapel worship every morning with the expectation that all hospital staff will attend.  Graciously they had asked that our Central Texas Conference Mission Team lead worship on that day and that I preach.  The assigned text they gave (as a part of an ongoing series they were involved in) was 2 Timothy 1:1-4.

As I stood outside mentally going over my message, the words of the text flowed over me.  It was as if I could hear the author of 2 Timothy speaking to the staff of Maua Methodist Hospital.   “I’m grateful to God . . .  I’m reminded of your authentic faith … I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. … God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”

The explicit vibrancy of the Christian faith in our north east Kenyan setting was everywhere present.  The words of 2 Timothy continued to echo: “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power. God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

The Kenyan Christians are explicit about their faith.  Amidst a bewildering variety of denominations and expressions (some European and North American implants and other expressions homegrown denominations), they are not ashamed of their faith.  Nor do they take it for granted.  While Kenya is far more Christian as a whole than the United States, there is a still a freshness to their witness that inspires.  We have much to learn from them.

Earlier that week on Monday morning as we stood outside waiting to join the first of our weekly chapel services, Rev. James Monroe, CEO of Maua Methodist Hospital, had called our attention to the placement of the windows in the chapel.  They were not in the normal position but instead high up on the outside walls.  Rev. Monroe went on to explain that when Christianity first came to the area (only a few generations ago) people would throw stones through the windows at Christians worshipping together.  The stones would hit and injure people in the pews.  So, when the built the chapel, as a protective measure they put the widows high up on the outside walls.  In this way people worshipping were less likely to be struck by a thrown rock.

The rock throwing didn’t stop the worship; nor did it squelched their public witness.  They remained, in the words of 2 Timothy, “not ashamed” of the gospel.  Today, because of their public witness, explicit evangelistic sharing, monumental good works for all people (even – especially – those who were not Christian), and steadfast reliance on the Holy Spirit, something like 80% of the population of the Maua region of Kenya is Christian (active and practicing, not just on a role!).  The high windows are both testimony and legacy.  There provide a pointed lesson to us.

I wonder, are we – am I – willing to suffer for Christ in boldly offering our/my witness?  Are we unashamed of the gospel and willing with courage and utter reliance on Christ to say “This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).  Do we “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus [?]. Protect this good thing that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

I return from Kenya thankful for the teaching and prodding they offer us.  We have much to learn.

KENYA_preaching

MEDICAL CAMP AND THE ONGOING MINISTRY OF KEN DIEHM

On Wednesday (and again today – Friday, September 26th), the Central Texas Conference Mission Team share with key personal in an incredible experience called “Medical Camp.”  Leaving after morning chapel at the Maua Methodist Hospital, we drove for about an hour out into what seemed like desolation.  Leaving the green foothills around Maua, we went out into a drought-stricken region that made our own West Texas drought area look verdant by comparison.  In a Methodist School out among the poorest of the poor, we set up a clinic providing basic medical care.

On the far side of the school yard was the area well.  It is an incredible scene of life-giving water being pumped into 10 gallon yellow plastic jugs all day long.  The water is then carried, sometimes miles, on the back or in a wheelbarrow back to a home with no electricity or running water.  The wells themselves (we saw two) were in part put in by various United Methodist congregations from the Central Texas Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, some churches in the Western North Carolina Conference and some parts of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  The power of connection, the United Methodist Connection, and the connection we have with the Methodist Church of Kenya was incredibly evident in a life-giving Christ-honoring way.  Matthew 25:44 came alive before our eyes.

A group of us demonstrated the use of the malaria preventing bed nets.  It was my tremendous joy to present the first bed net ever given out in that area to a young mother holding a small child.  The gratitude was palpable. Malaria sickness was the most prevalent Kenya_bishopdiseaKenya_jolynnse we encountered on Medical Camp.  The nets are prized possessions that often a number of family members will sleep under together.  I made the presentation on behalf of the Central Texas Conference as we gave out 200 nets.  We ran out!  More were needed.  Tomorrow we will give out another 200 at the next Medical Camp.

 

These life saving Medical Camps could not happen without Mission teams from places like Texas, Oregon, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.  They provided two crucial ingredients that, as good and as dedicated as there wonderful staff are (and make no mistake there are tremendously committed!), cannot provide — personnel through critically needed person-power and financial resources enabling the hospital to get the necessary medical supplies.  It was an exhausting, incredibly gratifying, truly holy day.

Thursday, while most of the team prepared for Friday’s medial camp and made contact with Zoe Ministry at the hospital, Randy Wild, Jolynn Lowry and I traveled to a special project.  We went to Mari, Kenya and visited with the Synod Bishop of the Kaaga Synod (Synod = District; Synod Bishop = District Superintendent).  In 2006 the Rev. Dr. Ken Diehm through his attendance at the World Methodist Conference in Seoul, Korea made connections with the Presiding Bishop of the MCK (Methodist Church of Kenya) and thereby began this incredible ministry that a number of CTC churches have been involved in every since.  On the wall of the HIV/Aids office were page after page of papers listing the orphaned destitute children being supported by First UMC of Grapevine, First UMC of Salado and Foundation UMC.

Later, we went to lunch at a guest house and retreat center the Kaaga Synod is building in partnership with First UMC, Grapevine.  There at the entrance was plaque stating that the foundation stone was laid by Rev. Dr. Ken Diehm, July 4, 2008.  Across the corridor there was another plaque dedicating the meeting hall in Ken’s honor and memory.

As I reflected on the day’s events, I find myself profoundly moved.  God is a work here literally half way around the world.  And we as Christians and churches and as the Central Texas Conference are incredibly privileged, honored and blessed to be a part of that ministry.  The great Methodist doctrine of sanctification is unfolding before our eyes.  Bible passages like Luke 10:25-27 and Matthew 25:31-44 are taking place before us.  I thank you, the members of the Central Texas Conference, for this good and godly work so nobly begun through the visionary leadership of Ken Diehm.  If you are not following the blog on the Kenya Mission trip written by Rev. Katie Meek, I urge you to do so.

MAUA MISSION

The day opens with worship at 7:30 in the hospital chapel.  The simple but pleasant sanctuary fills with hospital staff and we stand to sing.  The music comes from an old British Methodist hymnal and is known to many of us.  As the voices lift in song, the day begins with the Lord.

We arrived in Maua, Kenya on our mission trip to the Maua Methodist Hospital (an “Advanced Special” offering site of the Methodist ministry in the north east of Kenya) a day late.  Mechanical delays at DFW meant that we missed our connection in Dubai.  As a result, we spent an unplanned night in Dubai.  Most of us took the time to tour the city.

Opulence was the descriptive word!  On our tour we went past one magnificent structure after another.  The lights, the glitz, the extravagant wealth all combined for the ethereal experience.  At first I was impressed and then gradually I became depressed.  It was all too much.  Whatever the religion, the reigning God appeared to be financial wealth.  I am rightly judged by my inclination to be initially impressed and even covetous.  I am liberated by Christ calling me back to my better self.

At Maua Hospital, a ministry of the Methodist Church of Kenya (an affiliated Methodist Church of the UMC), a work of God unfolds in a ministrykenya_kids that only begins in the hospital.  A part of our mission travels took us yesterday to a pre-school for children who have been orphaned by AIDS and other poorer children in the community.  The poorest of the poor are not abandoned by the church but embraced.  One of the truly great God moments happened as Rev. Katie Meek let us in a singing, handwaving, dancing interaction with children who are starved for love.  This outpost work of the hospital is a phenomenal sharing of the love of Christ with most often unloved.

The hospital’s vision is far greater than simply a call for physical health care to those in the hospital.  It sees itself as responding to a call and claim for the Lord to a wider ministry beyond the hospital grounds  – especially (but not limited to) the poor.

What stands out the most for me, however, is the manner in which they understand true health care as accompanying both the spiritual and the physical side of life.  The morning worship is only one component.  Here at Maua Methodist Hospital they are explicitly but not exclusively about the Christian.  By that I mean they are consciously clear about praying to Christ, lifting up Christ, and seeking to be faithful to HIM as Lord and Savior by both word and deed.  The intertwining of the two is natural and instinctive.

Theologically speaking, this mission work seeks at its best to combine our understanding of justification and sanctification.  It yokes being saved by Christ to living for Christ in love and service to all.

Wednesday morning I will be the chapel preacher.  The assigned text they have given me is 2 Timothy 1:1-14.  (I invite the reader of this blog to read the text in full.)  2 Timothy gives thanks to God for their life and ministry.  I shall do the same.  One of my seminary classmates is a former presiding bishop.  (They have term episcopacy and he now serves in a Methodist University in Nairobi.)  The writer of this marvelous passage goes on to admonish Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel but rather to offer a bold witness.  Such is being faithfully done in Maua and the surrounding area of Kenya.

The church here is not perfect.  Challenges abound.  But, significantly I think, we have much to learn here.  We also have something to offer.  It is in the combination of the two that God is honored and the gospel of our Lord is lifted up.  I know myself blessed to be on this mission trip.

For those who would like to learn more, the Conference mission trip has established a regular blog site led by Rev. Katie Meek, a member of the team from First United Methodist Church in Round Rock.  I commend your reading of this ongoing blog about our mission trip

Math and Mission

One of the great gurus of church and conference vitality is Dr. Gil Rendle.  Gil serves as Senior Consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF).  He is the convener and guide for the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) Bishops Conclave (a bishops’ learning group) as well as working with a group of Cabinet members from across the state.  He is the author of a number of significant works including Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches (which I have highly recommended in the past) and his newest, Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness and Metrics.

Last June I was invited by Dr. Rendle to write a brief recommendation of the book.  I wrote the following:

math of missionDoing the Math of Mission is a seminal work that merits a deep embrace by struggling mainline Protestants.  Rendle challenges us to move beyond counting to measuring purposeful outcomes related to the deep mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.  Diamonds of insight are found on almost every page.  For instance, “Perhaps the most effective outcome is one that ‘offends’ in its clarity” (p. 30). The critical shift of focus from inputs to measurable outcomes, which reflect clarity of purpose, offers specific and concrete guidance to any congregational leader (lay and clergy alike) or any judicatory executive.  Framed in a sound theology, Doing the Math of Mission provides critical material to build a bridge to the future of God’s preference of the Church.

Currently we (as both a Conference and as the larger United Methodist Church) are wrestling with issues that swirl around accountability (for both churches and clergy), metrics, outcomes and fruitfulness.  These critical issues will not and should not go away.  I have repeatedly insisted that metrics must be yoked to what I like to call the narrative.  Narrative is the story of fruitfulness in its widest context.  At its root the issues of faithfulness and fruitfulness intersect at the junction of just-whose-church-is-this.

Biblically speaking, we must always insist that this is not our church – either Conference, laity or clergy – but in fact the Lord’s church.  It is, we are together, the body of Christ!  Math really goes with mission!  Thus, it is a joy to strongly recommend and urge the reading of Gil’s insightful book – Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics.

While I am on the subject of mission, tomorrow Jolynn and I leave with a Central Texas Conference mission team to Kenya.  Many churches in the Central Texas Conference have had long-term mission relationships with the Methodist Church of Kenya.  It should be an insightful and exciting time of learning.  I hope to blog about the trip in the unfolding 2 week period.

This is truly a part of our purposeful outcomes related to the deep mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

For All the Saints: Bob, Blessing and Baptism

Today, Thursday, September 11, 2014, I went to the funeral service for one of saints of the Central Texas Conference, Robert H. Briles, Sr., “Bob.”  Such occasions always lead me to reflect on life; its meaning and fragility.  Bob went from being a young boy raised on a farm near Milford, Texas to being a soldier in combat in Korea to a committed pastor pouring his life out in service to Christ and His church. Those leading the service spoke with eloquence but the greater eloquence was Bob’s life and witness.

The great words of the hymn For All the Saints echoed through me:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Driving back from First UMC in Weatherford over to White’s Chapel for the continuation of the High Octane Preaching Class, I could not help but reflect on the juxtaposition of celebrating the resurrection life of a saint like Bob Briles and the rise of a new generation of preachers as represented in the High Octane Preaching Class.  In the realm of the Lord’s kingdom building rule, together we are all a part of the ongoing never-ending witness to Christ’s rule and reign.

This coming Sunday I will participate in another act of worship which extends that great cause of our Lord.  I will be out at Newcastle United Methodist Church and have the joy of sharing in the baptism of Josiah Ray.

The three actions connect in my mind à from the service of Death and Resurrection for Bob Briles, a saint of the church to à the blessing of teaching the High Octane Preaching Class with John McKellar to à the celebration of Christian baptism with the Ray’s and the faithful of Newcastle UMC.  Bob … blessing … baptism; all point to the truth that we are enlisted together in a great cause, the cause of Christ.

It is the words of a later verse of For All the Saints that lingers deep in my being:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

As I drive along, I think I can hear the hymn and words echoing in my life.  They are still on my ear as a gift from God.  Bob, blessing, and baptism; they all connect with the work of God’s grace through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In the midst of all the activities that engage us, I celebrate being a part of the cause of Christ!

On another critical subject, we received a letter from Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Episcopal Area which includes Russia and Ukraine.  He writes in part, “The United Methodist Church in Ukraine continues its ministry in the time of war, suffering and much uncertainty   in   the   country.   We   have   two   churches   in   the   Eastern   Ukraine   -­‐    in   Lugansk   and Krasnoarmeisk near Donetsk. The bombing of Lugansk was felt by many of our United Methodist people. One bomb fell in the garden of the neighboring house next to our church building. The neighbor suffered and the windows of our church was broken. The congregation in Lugansk which consists of 65 people became refugees and left the city. Only three elderly members of Lugansk UMC decided to stay in the city. 10 members of Lugansk UMC moved to Chelyabinsk region where they are given shelter and small job to survive. I am grateful to our UMC in Satka (Chelyabinsk region, Russia) who helps this group of 10 physically and spiritually. Especially I am grateful to this group of 10 who want  to  start  a  new  church  in  the  midst  of  difficult  situation.  They find comfort in God and in fellowship with our brothers and sisters from Satka.”

Bishop Khegay continued, “Our UMC in Eurasia is very grateful to UMCOR for providing help to Ukrainian refugees in Sochi region and to members of Lugansk UMC who became refugees (documented and undocumented) within Ukraine and Russia. Our members of UMC in Sochi minister to refugees from Ukraine who come to Sochi region in the Southern Russia. ….”

Bishop Khegay closes, “Rev. John Calhoon, GBGM missionary, and Rev. Vladimir Khabriko coordinate our ministries in Kiev, Ukraine helping refugees from Crimea. Again, we are grateful to UMCOR for providing help so quickly when so many people are now in need of food and shelter.  As people called Methodists we move as the Spirit moves us to be where suffering people are, to comfort those who need help, to bring food and water, and to start new churches as God leads us. Thank you for your prayers and support!”

I ask that we keep the people of Ukraine and Russian in our prayers and especially Bishop Khegay and the United Methodists of that embattle region of the world.

Six Critical Questions

For the past year and a half, the Cabinet of the Central Texas Conference has been working with the Lencioni organization (The Table Group) in assimilating and implementing lessons from Lencioni’s bestselling book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.  We have been seeking to do so in a manner that integrates such thinking with scriptural guidance and theological fidelity to the Wesleyan understanding of faithfulness.  (Many of you might be aware that Patrick Lencioni is a very active practicing Roman Catholic and engages in such work with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.  Our consultant, David Simpson, is a very active Southern Baptist layman and is likewise committed to integrating the insights of organizational health with Christian theology and practice.)

In our recent Cabinet retreat we examined six critical questions.

1)      Why do we exist?  (Mission)
2)      How do we behave? (Core Values)
3)      What do we do?
4)      How will we succeed?
5)      What is most important right now?
6)      Who must do what?

Our focus was in particular on questions two and five.  In a spirit of transparency and an invitation to join in reflection, I offer the following notes of our work.

1)      Why do we exist?
To energize and equip local churches to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

2)      How do we behave? (Core Values)
i.  Missional (service)
ii.  Christ-like community (worship, lifting up Christ, inclusive)
iii. Engaging, grace-filled, witness [Evangelism] (new people new places, resurrection Jesus, reaching outside the walls)

3)      What do we do?

4)      How will we succeed? (Strategic Anchors; the anchors offer guidance for decision making. We are establishing a “word-smithing” team to refine wording and communication of our strategic anchors.)
– Christ at the Center
– Focus on the Local Church
– Leadership Development

5)      What is most important right now?
1
.      Increasing the number of vital congregations (the current Thematic goal) with five “Defining Objectives” (as follows):
i.     HCI (point guard = Gary Lindley)
ii.    Personal Evangelism & Witness (point guard = Carol Woods)
iii.    30 new church in Risking Taking Mission with the Poor (point guard = Randy Wild)
iv.    Maintain and grow the number of 126+ (average worship attendance) churches (point guard = Bob Holloway)
v.    Lay and clergy leadership development & recruitment (point guard = Georgia Adamson)

We committed to having at least a monthly check-in conversation where we are pointing to these five.  I named “point guards” (drivers or champions) for each of the five defining objectives.

Additionally we outlined some actions steps (some of which are already in process)

Action steps for #5 re Evangelism/Witness:
1.  Bob will visit with Board of Ministry with regard to candidates qualifying for ordination having the ability to tell their personal story of salvation.  Individual DS’s will convey this concern to District Committees on Ministry.
2.  Establish a “Task Force on Conference Evangelism” strategy – Bishop and Carol
3.  The Cabinet will share with each other who they are evangelizing.

Action steps for #5 re Leadership Development:
1.  Continued Recruitment (Georgia)
2.  Laity teaching module for local church (Kim Simpson and Kevin Walters are currently work on this project in conjunction with Georgia Adamson.)
3.  Rewriting HCI curriculum (Gary)
4.  Develop 10+ lay supply (part-time) preachers (Don)
5.  Improving acculturation of newly ordained clergy for the first five years
6.  Leadership succession planning (Bishop)

6)      Who must do what?
There is much thinking and praying that remains to be done to fully complete this work.  And, in a larger sense, it is ongoing work which is never really finished but always in various stages of beginning and refining.  Nonetheless, with Mr. Wesley we celebrate that the “best of all is that God is with us” (Matthew 28:16-20).

LISTENING TO FERGUSON

During the past week I have been out in Colorado (Grand Lake, near the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park) on vacation with my wife and some friends.  During that, I intentionally exercised a “media fast.”  Upon returning home, we reconnected to hear the news of the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri.

As we watch, listen and learn, the situation and people of Ferguson have much to teach us.  The need for racial justice remains large.  The capacity for misunderstanding is huge.  Amid the cacophony of sounds and images coming from Ferguson, we need to sift through the noise and see Christ.  God is calling us to engage in faithful healing.

One of the very best pieces of writing on the situation in Ferguson comes from Bishop Robert Schnase (United Methodist Bishop of the Missouri Conference).  In particular Bishop Schnase highlights the Christ-revealing work of Rev. Willis Johnson and others.  I share Bishop Schnase’s letter with his permission and strongly urge the reader to follow both links back to source and listen to the reports.

Dear friends,

 People have asked about what The United Methodist Church is doing in response to the events in recent days in Ferguson, Missouri, and so I’d like to lift up a few significant points of engagement and offerings of ministry.

 The Missouri Conference launched a new church start in Ferguson two years ago after identifying the community as underserved by The United Methodist Church.   Wellspring United Methodist Church is located two blocks from the area seen frequently on television news in recent days.  The congregation has offered services of prayer and reconciliation and provided meeting space for community and church leaders.  Under the leadership of Rev. Willis Johnson, the church has been on the forefront of efforts to ease tensions, offer consolation and prayer for those who grieve, and to seek the truth about the events that led to the death of Michael Brown.

Let me strongly suggest that you listen to the following National Public Radio interview with Rev. Willis Johnson for the program All Things Considered.   The interview and the accompanying photograph are powerful, and they bear witness to the courage and faith of United Methodists on the front lines as they engage issues of race, anger, fear, and a longing for reconciliation.

 http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue

 I would also draw your attention to the article by Heather Hahn of the United Methodist News Service.  Her article highlights the involvement of other United Methodist Churches in the St. Louis area and from across Missouri that have reached out with volunteers to help with educational ministries for children and youth during the time that the Ferguson schools have been closed.   The Missouri Conference Office of Mission, Service, and Justice has also offered support and volunteers to help with such basic tasks as clean up and support for those businesses that have been looted or suffered damage.   Heather’s article can be found at:

 http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/church-leaders-strive-to-be-peacemakers-in-ferguson

 United Methodist voices, including that of the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (an active United Methodist himself), have sought to de-escalate rather than to intensify, to work toward peace and justice rather than to avoid, blame, or ignore.

 We continue to hold in our prayers all those who have most personally and painfully been affected by the violence, and we continue to look for opportunities to serve and to bring a ministry of healing to a community that has been deeply hurt. . . .

 Yours in Christ,

 Robert Schnase
Bishop, Missouri Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church

There are important lessons to learn in listening to Ferguson.  I invite us to join in our prayers and then take the next step in service and ministry as the Holy Spirit leads us.

That’s Path 1

At the recent meeting of the Path 1 Advisory Board in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rev. Martin Lee the new church developer for the Northern Illinois Conference shared a story of the start of a new church in Brookfield, Illinois (in the Chicago metropolitan area).  The old First United Methodist Church of Brookfield had been closed and sold to the public library.  The congregation had dwindled and could not maintain the old facility.  There was not parking and attempts at outreach had not succeeded.

After a season of having no United Methodist Church in Brookfield, the Conference decided to go back into the area and plant a new church.  An effective new church developer was appointed and soon a new church was discipling people in the area.  With help from the Conference New Church development office and sacrifice on the part of the new people, they were soon able to purchase land for a new church.

The land was in a core urban environment and quite expensive.  The purchase required some form of zoning approval because it would be removed from the city’s tax role.  Rev. Lee along with the new church pastor/planter went to the hearing.  The room was packed with people opposing the sale and removal of the land from the tax rolls.  A restaurant owner led the charge to deny the church the land.  (A decision is still pending.)

Karl Sokol, the new pastor/planter, got involved in the community including the business community.  He reached out and made friends.  One of his new friends was the obdurate restaurant owner.  As they visited Greg shared his need for space to worship.  The restaurateur learned that the time they wanted to meet at was when his restaurant was closed so he offered his restaurant as a place for them to worship.

Soon there were worshipping in the very restaurant that had tried to block their entrance into the community.  The owner would periodically peek in to see how they were doing.  After a while, instead of just looking in occasionally the restaurant owner was sitting down and staying.  Gradually he lingered to help.  And now, he has been baptized, confessed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and joined the church.  His life has been transformed by Christ and the community of the faithful.  (By the way, the name of the new church is Compassion UMC.  The restaurant owner and now member of Compassion UMC has changed his position on the sale 180 degrees.)

In sharing the story, Rev. Lee finished by saying, “and that is Path 1.”

Path1 is formally, institutionally, a branch of the work of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  It works to establish new churches is a part of the crucial focus area “New Places for New People.”  (The other major part of the “New Places for New People” Focus Area is building vital congregations in existing churches.)  The Path 1 Team works with Conferences and local churches to reach new people for Jesus Christ.

This is our Connection Mission Giving (apportionment) dollars at work.  It is at work in transformation in the name of Christ.  Rev. Lee was reminding us that it comes down to the transformation of an individual life.  Bottom line, Path 1 is ultimately about conversion and life transformation.

Here in the Central Texas Conference we are intimately linked with Path 1 through the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth.  Currently Rev. Jennifer Pick is serving as our second Path 1 intern in new church development.  She is appointed to First United Methodist Church of Mansfield.  Rev. Shane Reyna, who served as our first intern at White’s Chapel, is now building a new faith community in the northeast corner of the Conference called 1709 United Methodist Church.  Through the Path 1 LMPN (Lay Missioner Planting Network), Teresa Sims (a lay person) is starting a Hispanic community at Wesley UMC in Arlington.

Path 1 is a Spirit led, life transforming work of God, offering Christ to all. That’s Path 1.

Writing and On the Road Again

For five blissful days I had the opportunity to outline and then begin writing on a possible book about the church as it moves to a new future.  A rough draft (or part) of the introduction goes something like this:

As the waters of secularity recede, a chaotic wasteland lies around us.  And yet, even as church after church closes, the label “wasteland” seems at once appropriate and wildly inappropriate.  There are pockets left where churches can function within an old style Christendom mode. There are places of new exciting ministry emerging that open our eyes to a work of God unfolding among us and around us.

Gil Rendle notes that our struggles of the past couple of decades have not been wasted.  We have been learning.  It is the contention of this book [hopefully this will become part of a book] is that at the heart of our struggle are issues of theology and missional purpose.  We have forgotten the essence of what we are to be about.  As good as our current emphasis on social engagement through deeds of love, justice and mercy (and it is a good! but seriously incomplete emphasis), we need to reclaim, recover and re-appropriate the essential good news of Jesus Christ if we are to complete our exodus journey to a new land.  At its heart, our own reformation is a theological and spiritual pilgrimage of the first order.

Back in November of 2006 General John Abizaid appeared before the Senate Arm Services Committee to defend the then failing strategy of turning the war in Iraq over to Iraqis.  Then Senator Hillary Clinton sharply noted in an exchange while questioning General Abizaid on the strategy, “General, hope is not a strategy.”  Senator Clinton was right.  Shortly thereafter under the leadership of General Petraeus, a new strategy known as “the surge” was adopted.

So too however was General Abizaid in his response to Senator Clinton.  “With regard to hope not being a method, Senator, I agree with you, and I would also say that despair is not a method.”  The General continued, “This has been a very hard and difficult process, and over the length of time, we have learned some hard lessons.”

Today neither hope nor despair may count as faithful and sufficient strategies.  Hope alone is not the implementation of the necessary theological, spiritual and practical journey that the post-Christian church must take.  To be sure, any faithful strategy will involve hope, but it will also involve a deep embrace of core doctrines and practices of the Christian faith that have been too long forgotten or ignored.  Despair is, on the face, unfaithful to the Christian gospel.  We are people of the cross and the resurrection.  History is His (Christ’s) story!

Meanwhile, I am back on the road again.  We drove in from Angel Fire on Sunday evening and went right over to First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth to hear Rev. Ray Simpson, the spiritual retreat director at Lindisfarne, England (Holy Isle).  It was an engaging presentation of the spiritual hunger and renewal taking place currently all around us.

After ½ a day’s work in the office, I flew out Monday night for Charlotte, North Carolina.  Currently I am presiding over two days of meetings for the Path 1 Team of the Board of Discipleship.  Path 1 is the name which refers to new church development as a key path to engaging a secular culture with the gospel.  Those who attended the breakout session led by Rev. Candace Lewis at our Annual Conference will recall that she is the Director of Path 1, our denomination’s new church development efforts.  It is outstanding, creative, engaging ministry which reaches deep into a post-Christian culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In my opinion Path 1 is one of the bright spots in The United Methodist Church.

Thursday I will address the Network of New Church Developers – an informal group of Conference staff in charge of new church development.  Currently, Rev. Gary Lindley from the Central Texas Conference is a part of the group.  Before I was elected bishop I was a part of this informal but vital network from the Southwest Texas Conference.  I’ve been asked to share what I have learned now that I have served as a bishop for 6 years.  As a friend of mine put it, “what have you learned now that you’ve gone over to the dark side?”  With apologies to Darth Vader, it should be a fun time!

I fly home on Thursday afternoon and fly back out on Friday morning for a week vacation in Grand Lake, Colorado (the western end of Rocky Mountain National Park).  While I love what I am doing right now, a week of rest in the Rockies with Jolynn and some dear friends sounds wonderful!

A Writing Retreat

This coming Monday afternoon, I will be leaving on a 5 day “writing retreat.”  I have been working off and on to write a book on what direction the church (especially the United Methodist branch of the Church Universal) should take.  I have started and written different chapters about five or six different times.  I guess I think in sermonic size because much of what I want in the book I have shared in sermonic form.  Yet, I find it difficult to sit down and write the book out in full.  Hence the retreat is a working attempt to still life and focus on what I think needs to be said.

As I look back over notes that stretch before I was elected to the episcopacy, there are a number of titles I have proposed for this “book.”  At one point I came up with the title The Wilderness Way. (Quite separately and after I had outlined this tentative work and written pieces of some chapter, Gil Rendle wrote his great book Journey in the Wilderness.  If you have not read it, I commend it to you strongly!) Chapters partly written include – Faith-walking into an Uncertain Future, Into the Unknown, Go to Deep Waters, The Wilderness Way, Rediscovering Evangelism and Perseverance.

Another tentative title was Back to the Future.  Taking the title from the infamous movie of the same name starring Michael J. Fox, the essential thesis was that we need to go back to go forward.  We need to rediscover the lessons of the original Christians in The Acts of the Apostles (which is the actual title of what we call simply Acts, the fifth book of the New Testament), learn from the Wesleyan revival and especially from the work of the first Methodists in America, and conduct an examination of the some current explosive examples of “movemental Christianity” such the church in China.  My tentative chapter titles include things like – Into the Wilderness, Back to the Future, Answering the Why, Evangelism Embraced, The Church to Come, and Who Trusts in God? – Providential Leading (Borrowing from Albert C. Outler’s book of that title).

More recently my draft work has been tentatively entitled simply The Way.  The earliest Christians were called “followers of the way” (Acts 18 & 19; Acts 24).  Over the last few years I have preached a number of sermons on the “The Way of Christ.”  A recent series was on 1) Followers of the Way, 2) The Way of Salvation, 3) The Way of a Slave, and 4) Shepherds of the Way.

My latest tentative title is The Way: Our Designs’ or God’s Preferences.  The outline goes something like this.

Intro
Issues
The theological wasteland
Jesus at the Center — one among many or The One
Rejecting Schleiermacher & reclaiming revelation
Becoming again a distinctive people
Elements
Genuinely orthodox
Truly Wesleyan
Passionately missional
Unashamedly evangelistic

As you can see, I have a lot of work to do!  I find myself repeatedly coming back to a theme I first lifted up in a speech to the United Methodist Publishing House Board in 2006 and later put in article form for an article published in The Circuit Rider just prior to the 2008 General Conference.  Whatever else we are about we must be: 1) Genuinely orthodox, 2) Truly Wesleyan, 3) Passionately missional and 4) Unashamedly evangelistic.  I am convinced that The Way meaning the Way of the Lord before us necessitates a deep recovery of a core Wesleyan theology and spirituality as a first order of business.  Only from a firm foundation of orthodoxy with Christ at the center can we truly walk in the Way of the Lord.

I ask your prayers for my writing project.